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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

UK foreign secretary backs Saudi ties before US talks

Jeremy Hunt says he will discuss Yemen with the US but says Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally for both countries

Mike Pompeo and Jeremy Hunt meet at the State Department in Washington. AP 
Mike Pompeo and Jeremy Hunt meet at the State Department in Washington. AP 

The UK’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said intelligence-sharing with Saudi Arabia had prevented terrorist bombings in Britain as he defended the alliance ahead of discussions with his US counterpart over war in Yemen.

Speaking in Washington where he was preparing to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mr Hunt said that the UK and Saudi Arabia were allies in the fight against extremism after facing questions over the kingdom’s role in Yemen. Mr Hunt also said the world needed to come together to halt the “malign influence of Iran.”

The Arab coalition allied with Yemen’s government is investigating claims that an air strike on Houthi rebels earlier this month killed dozens of children when a missile hit a school bus.

Reports have suggested that US weaponry was used for the attack but Mr Hunt said the sale of American weapons to the alliance was a matter for the US administration.

“We are of course going to talk about Yemen with the administration here,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “I think they have a very similar approach to us, but as far as Britain is concerned, when it comes to arms sales we have one of the strictest regimes in the world.”

He said the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia kept the “streets of Britain safe” from terrorist attacks.

“Saudi Arabia is a very important military ally,” he said. “We are their partners in fighting Islamic extremism.”

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s primary trading partner in the Middle East, with over 200 joint ventures worth a total of $17.5 billion. The UK’s political opposition has said that UK support for the conflict in Yemen must end.

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Direct links with allied countries will become increasingly important after Britain leaves the EU in 2019 amid questions over what access the UK will have to the intelligence capability of Europol, the bloc’s crime and terrorism coordination hub.

Britain’s clout over sanctions will also diminish. Britain has been a key player in EU sanctions policy and has been particularly hawkish in its policy towards Russia following Moscow’s incursion into the Crimea and alleged Russian-led attacks on its soil.

In a speech to the US Institute of Peace in Washington DC on Tuesday, Mr Hunt had called for further sanctions on Russia and accused President Vladimir Putin of making the “world a more dangerous place”.

Russian-UK relations have worsened since a former Russian military officer and double agent was poisoned in the British town of Salisbury. British authorities have since accused Russia of being behind the attack – a claim denied by the Russians.